Most times when a European film is remade in the United States, the critics cry foul and the U.S. version is usually not as strong.
But as good as the Danish film “Brodre,” made by writer-director Susanne Bier in 2004, may have been, that should not dissuade anyone from going to see Jim Sheridan’s new version “Brothers,” now playing.
It is worth seeing.
The director of such classics as “My Left Foot” (1989), The Field” (1990), “In The Name of the Father” (1993), “The Boxer” (1997) and the autobiographical “In America” (2003), Sheridan is famous for getting tight and emotional performances from his actors.
That is the case in the devastating “Brothers.” From the three terrific leads, Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman, to the outstanding supporting performances from Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham, all the way to the kids who play the daughters, Bailee Madison and Taylor Grace Geare, Sheridan pulls out truly real and touching performances.
The screenplay by David Benioff (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” 2009, and “Troy” 2004) is not strong, but that doesn’t matter here.
Maguire, in his best dramatic role, is simply heartbreaking as Captain Sam Cahill, a loving husband and father, who is being sent back for another tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Right before he leaves, Sam brings his younger brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) home from a stay in prison. Sam’s wife, Grace (Portman), never has liked Tommy, and his own father, Hank (Shepard), is also disapproving.
When Sam and his squad are shot down and presumed dead, the family at home must deal with the consequences.
Tommy changes and becomes close to Sam’s girls.
While being held prisoner with a hometown friend, Joe Willis (Patrick Flueger), Sam is forced to do some terrible things, but is eventually saved and returns home.
Once home, suspicion and guilt ravage Sam’s psyche and do terrible damage to his home life.
Maguire brilliantly portrays the changes in Sam’s personality.
An actor with a good resume of solid dramatic roles, Maguire has starred in “The Ice Storm” (1997), “The Cider House Rules” (1999) and “Wonder Boys” (2000), as well as giving heart to his “Spiderman” role as Peter Parker.
Here he gives his all, to great success.
Nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe winner for “Closer” (2004), Portman was also very good in “V For Vendetta” (2006). In “Brothers,” Portman is terrific as the good, confused wife, who suffers from her own scars from the entire incident.
Gyllenhaal shows great restraint in not making Tommy a caricature. From his days as “Donnie Darko” (2001) to “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), Gyllenhaal has played some very interesting characters. “Brothers” is not his first foray into the Middle East crisis. In 2005 he starred in “Jarhead,” a film about a marine in the 2003 Gulf War, and in “Rendition” in 2007, about a CIA analyst coping with terrorism and the complex issues of torture in the Middle East.
Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize winner in drama for his 1978 play “Buried Child,” is once again brilliant in his role as Hank, the Cahills’ father. Touching on themes similar to those in “Buried Child,” Shepard is disillusioned at losing his “good son.”
Madison as Sam’s oldest daughter, Isabelle, has some terrific scenes as well.
“Brothers” is not a great movie, but some outstanding performances bring it up a notch. There is plenty of heartbreak for the soldiers taking part in these conflicts around the world, but you must also keep in mind that there is a lot of grief on the homefront that needs to be addressed, too.
Sheridan is able to catch the anguish on both sides, in a truthful and emotional way.
Rated: R for language and some disturbing violent content
Score: B on the Brad-O-Meter